ServeLA Introduces Students to Service and Justice at Alma Backyard Farms

Each year, the Center for Service and Action (CSA) invites first-year students to join them in committing to serving at local Los Angeles community partners’ projects. They get to explore our local community through the lens of service and justice and connect with like-minded students. This year, as the community returned to campus and everything felt somewhat new, CSA invited both first- and second-year students to partake in this opportunity. Eighty students attended the program over two weekends in September at Alma Backyard Farms in Compton, California.

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Alma Backyard Farms, a farm in the middle of an urban area, teaches about food justice and restorative justice because Alma’s mission is to repurpose urban land into a functional food source and to work with formerly incarcerated individuals. Students toured the beautiful grounds with one of the formerly incarcerated individuals who works at the farm. Then founders of Alma talked about the history, the mission and helped connect the work the students were about to do to the larger issues of food justice and restorative justice. After that, LMU students got the chance to get their hands dirty by helping with compost and preparing and packaging some of the produce that would be sold at the farm the next day.

“As students navigated the first few weeks of school, it is a pretty safe bet any student willing to wake up early on a Saturday morning to do service and learn about the justice issues present at the urban farm are students who are committed to being people for and with others,” said Patrick Furlong, director of CSA. “Through the ServeLA program, we hope it is a chance for students who care about the pressing issues of our time to meet other students who want to commit themselves to work in social justice.”

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Carolina Newton ’25, a business management major and international relations minor from Long Beach, California, attended ServeLA because she wanted to learn more about the process of urban agriculture. “Over quarantine, I spent a lot of time creating and maintaining a vegetable garden in my mom’s yard and volunteering at a community compost group with my mom,” said Newton. “I discovered my love for working with the earth and wanted to learn more about the whole processes of urban agriculture. I also have heard so much about Alma’s mission on the LMU campus and have been wanting to visit ever since my freshman year and learn more about their community support aspect.”

Newton’s favorite part about serving at Alma was experiencing both the energy and the community at the farm. “Everyone there is so selfless and loving and passionate about what they do. I went ready to soak in and learn from them,” shared Newton. “Alma taught us the importance of community. During the Sunday market where Alma sells produce, it’s also an amazing time for people to connect and share a beautiful space where everyone is invested in the betterment of themselves and the community.”

After attending ServeLA, Newton now volunteers two Sundays a month at Alma Backyard Farms, leading children’s workshops. “They are called ‘Peas in a Pod,’ and I absolutely love spending Sunday mornings there, singing songs with neighborhood children and sharing with them the beauty of nutrition and the impressive Alma gardens.” For Newton, living a life of purpose has been something she’s been focusing on lately and has been about creating connections with others while also pursuing her passion. “In this case, my passions of health and sustainability can be shared with children to inspire in them a deep love for learning and hopefully instill a responsible relationship with our planet,” said Newton.

As students look for ways to get involved this year, right now is one of the best times for students to immerse themselves in educational opportunities about justice. “What we are finding is our community partners are all at different stages of comfort in receiving volunteers,” said Furlong. “Some are ready, some are not, and as we all have become accustomed to in these times, much is fluid, and what is true today might not be true tomorrow. But the systemic issues of injustice and how we learn about those, that is something every student can tap into.”

Many opportunities are coming up for students with Alternative Breaks trips. Some service organizations have just completed fall recruitment, which is a first for the service organization community. Students can also join CSA’s Justice on Tap monthly program, sometimes virtual and other times in person, where students learn about issues of injustice and those fighting to make the world more just.